Joachim formed a Quartet in 1869 in Berlin as part of the plan for the new Königliche Hochschule für Musik. The main idea was to provide an opportunity for students to hear professional performances of the repertoire they were studying by giving them free access to the concerts and the dress rehearsal at the Hochschule. However, the were so popular that they were converted into a regular concert series, which ended up lasting 38 years.
The Hochschule’s string faculty provided the quartet’s original members: Joachim, Ernst Schiever, Heinrich De Ahna, and Wilhelm Müller (1834-1897). Heinrich de Ahna (1834-1892) played viola in the original formation, and then switched to second violinist after the Joachim student Ernst Schiever (1844-1915) left in 1872. The viola part was then taken over by Eduard Rappoldi (1839-1903) until Emanuel Wirth (1842-1923) arrived in 1877.
Rappoldi was born in Vienna and studied with Böhm and Hellmesberger. He left Berlin in 1876 to become the concertmaster in Dresden, where he also gave regular chamber music concerts. Wirth was from Bohemia, had studied violin at the Prague Conservatory, and was based in Rotterdam before coming to Berlin. He was named Professor in 1884. When Robert Hausmann joined in 1879 after his former teacher Wilhelm Müller’s retirement, they were stable for 14 years, until de Ahna’s death at the end of 1892.
The Austrian Heinrich de Ahna had an unusual career path. He was the uncle of Pauline de Ahna Strauss. A child prodigy who studied with Mayseder in Vienna, he was named a “Kammervirtuose” at the court of Sachsen-Coberg-Gotha when he was 14. But when he was 17 he joined the Austrian army, reaching the rank of Oberlieutenant before returning to music in Berlin in 1862, where he served as concertmaster of the Königliche Kapelle until he became an instructor at the new Musikhochschule. After his death he was replaced first by Johann Kruse (1859-1927), a Joachim student who was German by way of Australia, and then, in 1897, by the Czech Carl Halir (originally Karel Halíř, 1859-1909), who had studied with Joachim from 1876-78. Halir had performed at Carnegie Hall the year before joining, and was known as a soloist as well as an ensemble player. He was one of the few violinists of his time who played the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto, and he premiered the revised version of the Sibelius Violin Concerto in 1905.